2013: In Conclusion

In Commentary, Commentary, HOME, LIFE, MUSIC by Sam Prance

The end of the year is near. Subsequently, Prancing Through LIFE will be posting a review of the year in each of its cultural categories before concluding on the year as a whole. Each post will take on a different format but will take a look at 2013′s highs and lows (more of the highs – if we’re honest). From Miley to Malala – it’s been quite a year.

2013. The year that feminism became popular again. The year that Lorde hit the big time. The year that Marc Jacobs left Louis Vuitton. The year that Malala established herself as an activist for women’s education. The year that Miley was…well, Miley. 2013 has been quite a year – and, as we head into 2014, the time has come to post the last post of Prancing Through LIFE in 2013.

When I launched Prancing Through LIFE in September it was with the hope that people would use it as a means to share their cultural interests and opinions. To share what inspires them and to discuss the important and slightly less important issues at hand. Since the site’s inception in September we’ve had discussions on everything from Banksy’s residence in New York to femme lesbianism and the appeal of Chris Lilley’s Ja’mie King to life in the UAE. It’s been quite a few months and, as people begin making plans for 2014, it seems important not to give you a long list of cultural events which have moved us over the year but instead to choose just one highlight which stands out in and amongst all that has happened in 2013.

What to discuss? As with any year there’s a plethora of options, however, the event which I’d like to call into question is: BEYONCÉ.

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Popstars are known for chugging out albums in cycles. Newbies tend to drop ones on an annual basis to further establish their fan bases, whilst the big guns often drop one every two years or so. In our modern age each album is teased endlessly with promo singles, televised performances and interviews. Music is made, singles are sold and the pop industry lives on.

In January and February Beyoncé did two of the highest profile performances of her life. She sung (well mimed but we’ll focus less on that) the U.S. national anthem at the president’s inauguration and was also the star of the half-time show at the Super Bowl. A tour was announced imminently, she was interviewed around the clock and her own personal documentary: Life Is But A Dream aired on HBO shortly afterwards. In March we we were treated to teaser track ‘Bow Down/I Been On‘ and April saw 30 second clips of new songs (Grown Woman and Standing On The Sun) be featured in adverts for H&M and Pepsi respectively. An album was in the works…surely? SURELY?!!

And yet, as the months went by and as the tour went on, stans and less fanatic Beyoncé admirers alike began to lose faith in the brilliant woman. December hit us and we all resigned to the fact that Beyoncé would treat us to new music at some point before 2020 – maybe 2015 if we were lucky. The news on December 11th that she was doing another U.K. leg of The Mrs Carter Show didn’t seem to provide any concrete evidence of any musical projects. It seemed that Beyoncé had given up on creating new music altogether.

This, of course, was far from the truth. As we all found out yesterday, on what will now be referred to as Beyoncé day (that’s Friday 13th December for all your diaries) Beyoncé was creating music and she wasn’t just creating a simple album but a ‘visual album’. 14 songs, 17 videos – that kinda thing. Simples. Yesterday – in the wee hours of the morning Beyoncé dropped BEYONCÉ on iTunes for all the world to enjoy. All of us who’d been waiting all year long  for an album went through several conflicting emotions – disbelief, joy, anger, tears of joy, confusion, and finally elation. Beyoncé day was in full swing – any frustration built up in the year against her was dropped. The visual album had arrived and it was brilliant.

For those of you who don’t know BEYONCÉ is Beyoncé’s most artistically rich album to date. It covers an array of interesting topics from new wave feminism on ‘***Flawlesss’: ‘we teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the same way that boys are’ to the corruption of the music industry on ‘Ghost/Haunted’: ‘I don’t trust these record labels, I’m torn’. It’s Beyoncé at her most frank and it is all set to the background of futuristic R&B/pop beats. Not just that but we see Beyoncé at her most explicit on ‘Blow’: ‘Don’t stop screaming, freaking, blowing’ and personal on ‘Heaven’: the lyrics ‘heaven couldn’t wait for you’ are an ode to a lost loved one – perhaps the baby she miscarried in 2011. The reason why BEYONCÉ stands out from its predecessors is that whilst it maintains a consistent sound like the singer’s previous opus 4, it experiments (Beyoncé raps, each track genre hops and the videos which accompany each song see Beyoncé take on new guises: bulimic beauty queen, sexual goddess, mother…the list goes on). In this album Beyoncé has made all of her previous releases, for all their hits, look somewhat corporate and amateur. BEYONCÉ is, in her words, her ‘best art’.

In a year in which there have been plenty of major pop releases: some surprising (Bangerz), some solid (Prism) and some just a little disappointing (ARTPOP, Britney Jean) – BEYONCÉ is the stand out record of the year. Experimental, a little weird but still pop enough to have you singing along – it’s everything you want in the album of a global superstar.

And perhaps, somewhat ironically, BEYONCÉ is far more the ARTPOP of the year than ARTPOP itself. Both albums deal with the subjects of sex and feminism but, whilst ARTPOP is disjointed, BEYONCÉ is a cohesive project. The art is all over the album: the songs, the videos, the format – it’s art without shouting about it. Interestingly, Lady GaGa herself, has stated that ARTPOP is not or at least will not be her greatest work. She is only 27 after all and this is her third (fourth if you count The Fame Monster separately) album. As an artist Lady GaGa is still establishing herself – whereas this is Beyoncé’s fifth album (ninth if you include her work with Destiny’s Child). Madonna released what many deem to be her best album: Ray of Light, aged 40.  It was her seventh record. GaGa will get there.

Part of the problem with ARTPOP and part of the brilliance of BEYONCÉ lies not just in the music but the promotion. GaGa has repeatedly referred to releasing an album as a ‘cum shot’. She believes it all happens too quickly. You release an album and then it’s done. In a bid to avoid this trap, GaGa released ‘Applause’ in August, performed a lot of new tracks in September at the iTunes Festival and started drip releasing songs in October before the album finally came out in November. She extended the album releasing experience considerably. The problem with this was that, when the album did arrive, we’d heard almost all of ARTPOP. There was all of the foreplay she’d promised but no ‘cum shot’. And if we’re going to see GaGa’s metaphor through – pop needs a ‘cum shot’.

With BEYONCÉ, Beyoncé has given us a year of pop foreplay – without giving anything away. Not just that but she’s given us the biggest pop ‘cum shot’ in history (Bowie – there weren’t 17 videos, there was no foreplay). And, as BEYONCÉ so effortlessly proves, we’ll be enjoying this ‘cum shot’ for years to come.

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A lot has happened in 2013 – but it started with Beyoncé and it’s going to end with Beyoncé.

What happened in 2013?

2013 was the year that Beyoncé, the artist, arrived.

Sam Prance

Sam Prance is the editor of Prancing Through LIFE. He studies French and Italian at Edinburgh University. His favourite film is American Beauty and he has Madonna marathons far too often. He is currently writing this auto-bio in the third person. He will now stop writing this third person auto-bio in order to save himself some embarrassment.

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